Photos by Donna
In 1983, when I was in college, I found a simple recipe for pasta with chopped tomato, a half cup of basil and plenty of sautéed garlic.  It was a brilliant, simple recipe I thought, and I made it for myself all the time.  It’s only drawback was that little shards of the herb would occasionally stick in the roof of my mouth and were difficult to dislodge.

Three years later, living in Manhattan, picking up some pasta at my local bodega, I noticed big bunches of bright green basil for sale.  “Ahhh!”  I thought, index finger raised.  “FRESH basil!  I’ll bet that makes a difference!”

Indeed it did.  And does.  It’s a summer staple meal when tomato and basil are in full flourish and the wizened bearded guy at the market has his amazing German garlic in.  But I like to remember how recently it was that the notion of using any fresh herb beyond curly parsley didn’t exist.  I’d grown up in a home that loved to cook and loved to eat and yet throughout the sixties and the seventies I never saw a fresh herb beyond that parsley and some chives for the baked potato.  The only herbs I saw came in little jars.Caa_0045

For tomatoes with basil, I salt the tomatoes about an hour in advance and toss it with some of the basil.  I sauté a head of garlic, minced, just lightly, medium rare so that my skin will smell like garlic for the next two days, then pour in the juices from the tomatoes, bring this to a simmer and mount a lot more butter into this garlic and tomato-water sauce.  Toss the pasta in the sauce, then toss in the tomatoes and top with the other half of the basil.

The night before, the meal was tomatoes with thyme and olive oil and whole cloves of roasted garlic, fried potatoes with fried sage sliced cucumber from the neighbor’s garden and buffalo mozzerella.  Two vegetarian meals in a row.  Accidents happen.


37 Wonderful responses to “More fun with tomatoes”

  • lisa

    So true about fresh herbs. Growing up in Illinois in the 70s, we always had a vegetable garden, but there were never herbs in it. Tiny green onions were the closest thing to an herb. I couldn’t live without fresh herbs growing in my yard today.

    Your tomato meals look delicious.

  • JD

    Both of those meals look amazingly good. I’m definitely going to try your old college recipe after hitting up the farmers’ market on Saturday. Though I’ll probably serve it along with some grilled chicken or maybe grilled fish – I get furiously hungry if I don’t have a big chunk of protein with my pasta.

    I love tomato season.

  • joelfinkle

    Yeah, another Illinoisan here who rarely saw fresh herbs outside of a restaurant until the last couple decades. For me, the breakthrough was cilantro: dried cilantro is, well, basically pencil shavings, and indispensible for, initially Mexican, then Indian and Thai and Vietnamese.

    I’ve grown my own, but rarely have good luck outside of of chives and oregano. My supposedly-perennial thyme disappeared this year, and the cilantro I plant seems to all bolt simultaneously after putting up just a couple of leaves.

    The price of herbs in supermarkets can be rather silly: a major Chicago-area chain will sell little 1/2oz plastic envelopes of fresh herbs for $2, while the same price can get you a big styrofoam tray at an ethnic produce market. Especially for basil, this makes the difference between using it as a garnish or a major ingredient (pesto, thai dishes, etc.).

  • Victoria

    This sounds fabulous. You do that buerre monte thing a lot don’t you, MR? I never knew about that – nor the wonders of veal stock – till you came along. But I did know about fresh herbs (and since my mother was a Brit, I say herbs like the name Herb, not like erb as the English never “frenchify” anything). I am definitely trying this right away.

  • Dana McCauley

    Isn’t it wonderful that we have access to lovely fresh herbs so much more readily than we did a couple of decades ago?

    Growing up fresh dill and parsley were all we ever had around and, sadly, we didn’t even know enough to buy dried herb leaves. More often than not, ground herbs made it into my mother’s grocery cart. We’ve come a long way!

  • Rich

    This time of year always makes me think of a simple salad my mother used to make when I was a kid. Sliced tomatoes, oranges (cut supremes, then squeeze the juice from the scraps over the tomatoes), basil, thinly sliced red onion, olive oil, and maybe a splash of red wine vinegar to adjust for acidity as needed. I love the balance of flavors of the sweet/sour and the pungency the basil adds. It always makes me think of summer.

  • milo

    Butter, are you crazy? Fresh garden tomatoes are perfect food, no need to add extra nonsense to it, or to go to extra work. Raw tomatoes, basil, some garlic, salt and pepper. Maybe a drizzle of olive oil beyond what you used for the garlic, but that’s it.

    You don’t even need to cook the tomatoes or heat them up, if the pasta is hot, that will bring everything together nicely.

  • mirinblue

    I,too, find myself an accidental vegetarian in the sweet,sweet summertime! It becomes so easy..fresh sweet corn, cukes, sliced tomatoes, maybe a bit of good bread and dinner is served. (and many other variations on the theme). Oh! and fresh green beans (sigh)

    I also like the non-cooked tomato sauces. Altho’ I use the garlic raw, as well. Just cut tomatoes, a bit (don’t forget it’s raw) of garlic, good olive oil and let steep all day on the counter. When pasta is ready, toss with sauce, garnish w/basil and slurp happily.

    And you are right about the fresh herbs, we grew a 2+acre garden every year with nary an herb in sight. I think we were deprived children…we didn’t even get the curly parsley!

    We’ve come a long way, baby!

  • Darcie

    Boy that pasta looks good – now I’m hungry at work but have no option for a lunch that good.

    We always had a very large vegetable garden when I was at home, but the only herb it contained was dill, and that was for making pickles and cucumber salad. Now I grow a lot of herbs, but I too have problems with cilantro. It doesn’t like the climate here so it bolts immediately. Luckily fresh cilantro is cheap and readily available in the supermarkets here.

    I like a spicy gazpacho to use up the bounty of the garden. It’s so refreshing in the heat of August.

  • nondiregol

    I live in California and always have pots of basil out. What amazes me is that you can buy a pot of basil to grow outside for less than the supermarket price for a little bunch.

    My basil plants tend to bolt really quickly due to some intense sun exposure. You have to be out there all the time picking off flower buds and pruning the lower branches.

    Even so, I could stop by the nursery and buy a healthy plant for less than the supermarket price.

  • Tags

    As long as you were thinking about bacon while you were eating it, all is forgiven.

  • Amy

    Both dishes look delish. It’s always a bonus and always a best if the freshest ingredients are used – and I’m sure you knew that!


  • Bleston Humenthal

    I love tomato season, particularly after the chilies have popped. Nothing like a big bowl of pico to work on your knife skills and keep the house happy.

    As a complete non sequitur, your name was invoked to make my life miserable today. I’m in Pardus’s Asias class in K1 right now. He’s just back from India, and I think he may have a touch of the Dengue fever.

    After a lengthy diatribe yesterday about using cheap plastic containers in the smallest reasonable size for non-heat sensitive mise, I set my station up today with exactly those tenets in mind. There was not a hotel pan within ten feet of my station. Vegetables were chopped and wrapped in damp paper towels in 1 pt yogurt containers. It was an ergonomic masterpiece, with everything in its right place.

    Visibly pleased with myself, I called chef over for demo. “Good, but take it down, make it suitable for photography. I don’t want to see sunnydale farms yougurt when I take a picture of the station.”

    When asked what I should use then, if not these appropriately sized, free containers, I was told “Grab a bunch of stainless 1/3 hotel pans, and make it look good”.

    Although I typically have a high capacity for negative capability, it was strained at this point, particularly as it was only 20 minutes till service. I dutifully tore down my station, washed all the now inappropriate yogurt containers, and set back up in the $12 stainless. Chef approved, and stood up on a stool above the station, and began snapping away.

    While at the potsink, washing all the plastic, I asked a classmate why Chef was taking all these pictures.

    “Oh, he told me he’s gathering some stuff for Ruhlman’s next book” he said.

    Damn you Ruhlman.

  • YOD

    God damn, do those pictures look delicious! I too grew up in Cleveland and knew nothing about fresh herbs until I was living on my own, cooking for myself. Now, reaching for the dry shaker is a last resort.

    I’m taking a caprese salad to a cookout this weekend and the tomatoes (yellow and red–I love the contrasting colors) and basil will be from my home garden. After recently reading “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” I was left wanting to try my hand at making my own mozz. I haven’t quite worked up the nerve to try that. yet.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Ok I have to tell this one and pardon me if you have all read it before, but it is probably too much ‘basil’ in my youth

    My brother is eight years older than me and actually did Woodstock the first time around and so it is with this i begin a story about herbs in my house..(this was a lost memory until a year ago i read a story in Food and Wine about how the writer gave his father a lime tree, i believe, instead of a meyer lemon tree and lied about it.

    Perhaps because Mr.Antin’s educated father reminded me of my own who could re-count all my brother’s faults but could never tell the difference in the marijuana plant that my father watered and cared for a whole summer, and wondered out loud one night why my brother was cutting the leaves.

    Why, for herbs in the tomato sauce at work, was the standard response my brother ALWAYS gave; and so each time my mother made her tomato sauce, my father chopped a few of the leaves and placed them in the pot.

    Dad died never knowing he watered and cared for a plant my brother smoked probably every weekend, and the tomato sauce lives on in all our memories.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I should add that in those days my ‘big’ brother was a partime tableside cook at the Rib n Reef making caesar salads at night and studying Marketing during the days…

  • mike pardus

    Uh, let’s get some clarity here….I was sooo impressed with the timing and set up for service today that I decided – ala minute – to use the extra time to shoot some “perfect” mise shots for use with future, less high performing, classes. I made sure to say “these mismatched plastic containers are perfect for everyday use, behind the scenes, but let’s shoot something you’d be proud to point to and say “that’s a picture of MY station”….dengue fever?…I turned 51 in India last week, but at least I’m still flexible.

  • Cali

    Like the others here, we only had fresh parsley (mostly for making stuffing for the turkeys on Thanksgiving and Christmas) and fresh dill for making pickles. Green onions were common, but I never really thought of them as herbs, even though I guess they are.

    I grow basil in my garden and have some Italian parsley, too. I don’t buy the herbs already started, they are very easy to grow from seed. In fact, this year’s basil plants are last year’s basil’s babies. In the fall I let them go to seed and collect the seeds. It’s incredibly easy. Oh, and free.

    FYI, I doubt many of your readers are participating in the Food Stamp program, but I feel the need to let anyone to whom this applies know that you can buy seeds for edible plants with Food Stamps. Even in an apartment one can grow herbs in the windowsills.

  • Badger

    I went a little nuts with the herb garden this year. Cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, dill, fennel, oregano, thyme, rosemary, chives, sage, two kinds of mint, two kinds of basil, a bay laurel and a Mexican marigold mint, aka Texas tarragon. All in pots, except the rosemary and basil (which do better in the ground around here for some reason).

    Some of those I didn’t even use in cooking this spring/summer, but I liked knowing I had them if I wanted them. I feel a little geeky about how much I’m looking forward to seeing what overwinters and what I can replace/add next spring.

  • Linda Seabold

    Ah … fresh picked tomatoes — one of life’s simple pleasures!

    Thanks, Michael, for your recipes and conjuring up a great childhood memory for me.

    We lived in the country when I was growing up in Ohio (Lorain County .. west of Cleveland). Surrounding us were fields — what they called a truck farm — where the local farmer (we called him Louie) grew veggies and trucked them to the West Side market in downtown Cleveland. He would back the truck up to this long covered area where, early in the mornings before sunrise, he would sell big baskets of whatever was ripe at the time to grocery stores and other vendors.

    He would pay us neighborhood kids a couple bucks to ride in with him to unload his truck — cheap labor for him and always a blast for us! Can’t believe our moms let us go.

    My favorite summers were the ones when Louie used the land behind our house to grow tomatoes. I know I must have consumed my weight in them those summers! Oh, my dad had plenty in our garden, but they always tasted better when we “snitched” them from Louie… never thinking we were really stealing because, geez, he had SO MANY!

    Us kids had a couple of those cardboard salt shakers stashed away in our “fort” in the rocks. We’d sneak into the field, pick a nice big ripe tomato and retreat to our fort and chow down — the juice dripping down our arms.

    Wow, I can almost taste it — juicy, tender and salty … and always warm from the sun. To this day I still like ’em warm.

    I’m sure Louie is gone by now … to the big truck farm in the sky. I probably should feel guilty about all his tomatoes I ate for free through the years.

    But … nah.

    Somehow I don’t think Louie minded all that much. Afterall, he had SO MANY!

  • KHT

    Got the mouth watering! What kind of proportions are you using Micheal re: the butter and tomatoes?

  • mel Hill

    we do the tomato basil garlic pasta dish but use brie instead of butter

  • mike pardus

    Vincent Mack – Thanks for the B’day wishes… “flexible” was in reference to my whining student who posted (scroll back a few comments, you’ll see)to complain that he had to re-arrange his mise so I could do some photos. He’s half my age and couldn’t hang with a sudden change of direction.

    At 51, my knees ache after a day of hiking or skiing and my left wrist get’s sore when it rains….other than that I’m in pretty good shape for an old reprobate.

  • S. Woody

    My own variation on spaghetti and tomatoes: Heirloom Tomatoes, Shrimp, and Angel Hair Pasta.

    Step one: Buy some good looking (and good smelling) heirloom tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market. And pick up anything else that looks good, foodwise. The local Farmer’s Market is one of the few places to shop that I’ll recommend to customers at the supermarket where I work, because they aren’t really competition for us, and it’s a social event. Given the tourists that come through the supermarket during the summer, if I spot a vacationer at my register that clearly is shopping for a week and is interested in food (you can tell from what they’re buying, trust me), I’ll tell them about the Farmer’s Market and almost every time be thanked for the information. Yes, we food people can spot one another.

    Step two: Drop by the local gourmet shoppe, if I happen to be out of angel hair pasta nests. Oh, heck, drop by just for the fun of it, because they’re really nice people. And there’s almost nothing they sell that we sell at the supermarket, so there’s none of that “competition” problem. This is one of the other places I’ll tell customers about.

    Step three: Drop by the store. Buy shrimp, uncooked, shells on. And if there’s anything else that looks good over in the produce section, grab it.

    Step four: Shell and devein the shrimp.

    Step five: Simmer up a nice broth from the shells, with any aromatics going in at this point. Ginger is nice. Garlic is nice. Peppercorns are nice. A few herbs are nice. Strain out the shells – crunch is not desirable in this dish.

    Step six: Cook up a couple of angel hair nests. I love how a nest is a perfect portion for a meal.

    Step seven (performed at the same time as step six): Steam the shrimp. It’s the best way I know of to keep from overcooking them.

    Step eight (again, at about the same time): Chop up those tomatoes into nice bites. Do the same with any other veg that’s going into the bowl.

    Step nine: Plate. Or, more accurately, bowl. In a large soup bowl, first add the cooked angel hair, then the tomatoes (and other veg), then the steamed shrimp, then pour the broth over everything. Any fresh basil, or other fresh herbs? Add them now.

    Step ten: Serve. Smile back when partner smiles.

    Yeah, the tomatoes are basically uncooked, other than from the broth. But that’s the point of getting good, fresh tomatoes.

    And I always get more shrimp than we need for dinner. Having the extra shells is nice, and my partner likes having the extra shrimp for lunch the next day. It’s one of the bonuses of cooking for two.

  • S. Woody

    Sorta off topic, I loaned Charcuterie to another co-worker last week. I’ve loaned my copy before to some of the guys in the meat department, this time it was to the “chef” of our “food-to-go” section. She really enjoyed the book, on first read. So did her husband, who hunts and regularly needs ideas for what to do with venison. Hopefully, they’ll be adding a copy to their own library soon.

  • Ann Lagravenese

    We did this tonight with our bumper crop of red, orange and yellow tomatoes:
    Quarter a bunch and put in a blender.
    Blend so it is still slightly chunky but still has a ‘soup-like’ consistencey.
    Add salt and pepper to taste.
    Put in freezer till it becomes somewhat frosty and slushy.

    Make a curry mayo.

    Pour or spoon frozen slushy tomatoes in to separate cups.
    Add dollop of curry mayo to each and serve.

    Refreshing and yummy.

    *for extra piquancy, add chopped onion to tomato mixture.

  • mike pardus

    I’ve taken MR’s basic bread ratio and substituted freshly pureed tomatoes for all of the liquid.

    500g Bread flour
    300g fresh tomatoes, pureed until smooth in a blender (whole – skins, seeds, everything except the stem and core)
    15 grams salt
    2 tsp. dry active yeast
    just enough water to dissolve yeast in(about 30 grams)

    I add about 50 grams of mixed, ground grains (spelt, wheat berries, flax seed, rice) for texture.

    This yields a rich tasting,light textured, yeasty loaf with a reddish/orange color/ It’s really good.

  • luis

    Excellent, that is how you use vegetables.

    The dish is the vegetable. YOu could have had a protein in its own sauce beside the tomatoes. The pasta fits in well with the tomatoes. Both become one in this dish. Pasta takes own the flavor of the tomatoes and garlic and oil etc…

    I gave up growing herbs for cooking in my patio. Can’t get the rapid rate of growth that would make it worth the effort. So the bon-sai’s rule the patio now.

    There is a product at Publix herb freezer that is fresh herbs in oil. It comes in a tube and sits right under the fresh herbs.
    Long story short I am trying some of these tubes to avoid the spoilage I get with fresh herbs. Can’t hurt… let you know more later after I have had a chance to try them. Same thing for tomato paste in a tube vs a can.
    But for a special dish I think I will buy the fresh herb.

  • karin

    you should definetly try fresh sliced tomatoes, chopped up cilantro, fresh ground black pepper and lemon juice.

  • Bob delGrosso

    I make a similar sauce however I peel and fillet the tomatoes. I cut the fillets “paysanne” or into tongues (depending on how the sauce will be used) but always leaving them raw.

    The pulp gets cooked with (garlic and olive oil or shallots/onions and butter) then pureed. The last step combines the puree with the fillets and chiffonade of basil/thyme/tarragon.

  • amber

    swung by the farmer’s market this weekend, picked up a bunch of beautiful tomatoes and fresh basil and whipped up the pasta for dinner that night.


    thanks for posting the recipe!!!

  • Susan

    I am a Home Economics graduate from the 70’s and fresh herbs were never mentioned in any of the foods classes. My first experiences with growing my own herbs was in 1981 on the patio of my 3rd floor apartment. Since then, I have been hooked on growing and using the herbs. There is no comparison in the taste! It doesn’t get any better than tomatoes with fresh basil!